Bell Canada has agreed to pay a $1.25-million penalty after the Competition Bureau learned that employees of the telecommunications giant had been downloading the company’s free apps and providing them with stellar reviews without disclosing their relationship to the company.
In addition to paying the “administrative monetary penalty” or AMP, Bell Canada has agreed to “enhance and maintain its corporate compliance program, with a specific focus on prohibiting the rating, ranking or reviewing of apps in app stores by employees and contractors.”
Bell Canada will also sponsor a workshop that will examined “Canadians’ trust in the digital economy, including the integrity of online reviews,” according to the consent agreement registered with the Competition Tribunal released Wednesday.
“I am pleased that Bell Canada demonstrated leadership to fully resolve the Competition Bureau’s concerns in this matter,” said John Pecman, Commissioner of Competition. “I commend the shared compliance approach taken by Bell to resolve this matter, which will benefit both consumers and the digital marketplace.”
According to the Competition Bureau, in November 2014, Bell employees were encouraged to download two free apps, MyBell Mobile and Virgin My Account, from the Apple iTunes App Store and the Google Play Store. The apps allow Bell customers to control their accounts directly from their mobile devices. The employees were then encouraged to post positive reviews and ratings of the apps without disclosing that they work for Bell.
The Bureau said Bell had the reviews and ratings removed as soon as it became aware of the situation in December 2014. “Nevertheless, the Bureau determined that these reviews and ratings created the general impression that they were made by independent and impartial consumers and temporarily affected the overall star rating for the apps.”
Affleck Greene McMurtry LLP, a Toronto law firm that does a lot of work in Competition Law, reviewed the consent agreement — and gave it no stars. “A 10-month investigation and a $1.25-million fine seems disproportionate to Bell’s conduct, which involved its employees posting reviews of account management applications that are given away for free, and are only useful to existing Bell customers. No one was duped into paying money for a product that didn’t perform as advertised. We rate this one zero stars.”
Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian PressBell